Revenge for an offended sister or an attempted coup in Azerbaijan?
A highly controversial attempt was made on the life of Mayor Elmar Veliyev on 3 July in Ganja, Azerbaijan. The official sustained a gunshot wound while the shooter, Russian citizen Yunis Safarov, was arrested at the scene of the crime.
Soon after the failed assassination attempt, photos of Yunis Safarov showing marks of severe beatings went viral on social media. According to online comments, police officers beat the suspect following his arrest and posted the photos themselves.
The images aroused anger and sympathy among opposition-minded Facebook users as the Mayor had a reputation for being foul-mouthed and rude, and thus did not enjoy sympathy among the people.
Currently there are two versions of what happened and the motives behind the shooting.
The official version
The Ministry of Internal Affairs has called the incident an act of terrorism.
According to the MIA, Yunis Safarov is a radical Islamist who spent eight months in the Iranian city of Qom in 2016 and was trained in Syria.
In 2017, after returning to Ganja, he attacked a bank security guard in order to acquire his weapon. Safarov followed Veliyev from January 2018 and once almost got caught before wounding a police officer and fleeing arrest. In July he finally tried to kill Veliyev.
The version goes on to claim that Veliyev was to become only one of many victims in a series of terrorist acts whose purpose was the creation of an Islamic state in Azerbaijan. To do this, it was necessary to kill a certain number of state officials to sow panic and chaos in the country and seize power.
The police claim that Safarov even prepared a video appeal calling on the people to fight against officials and enemies of Islam.
As for the photo of the disfigured Safarov, no-one beat him as he sustained the injuries while resisting arrest.
The unofficial version
Opposition and independent press (such as the Turan agency) including civil activists aspire to a different version.
As already mentioned, Verliyev has a reputation of being a rough man who systematically insulted both his subordinates and all the residents of Ganja, as well as visiting journalists. One of the victims of this treatment was Yunis Safarov’s sister.
Thus, an attack on the mayor of the city was not a terrorist act, but an act of revenge. This makes Safarov a hero rather than an unsuccessful killer in the eyes of not only Ganjans, but also many residents throughout Azerbaijan. One Facebook user, lamenting Safarov’s arrest, characterized him as ‘one of the only real men in the entire country’.
Furthermore, according to the Turan news agency, the Muslim Unity movement (on behalf of whom Safarov allegedly prepared his video appeal), declared that this person is not a member of their organization. The video itself has not been published anywhere yet, raising doubts to its very existence.
Another video message was made by Safarov’s wife. In it she explained her husband’s actions somewhat differently. According to her, he avenged not only his sister and offended Muslims, but also, in general, all the Ganjans whom Veliyev had long oppressed.